LEADERSHIP in business can be challenging at the best of times because many of the issues leaders have to deal with are constantly evolving. Unprecedented changes have taken place in the last three decades in many spheres, including a significant shift from the old management and leadership paradigm of the industrial era to the new paradigm of the knowledge economy.The Covid-19 pandemic has added further challenges for leaders and organisations and the changes that have taken place have resulted in ambiguity and uncertainty in the local and global business environment. These factors have an impact on the complexities of the evolving leadership landscape.The shift of leadership paradigms makes it imperative that leadership practices reflect the current environment of organisations and do not cling to nostalgic ideas from the past. The leadership styles of the 20th century are no longer effective in the 21st century despite an attitude of “we have always done it this way” or “if it’s not broke don’t fix it.”Megatrends and the forces of change are reshaping the organisational environment and leadership paradigms and Malaysian business leaders need to reflect this in their leadership and management styles. Changes and developments in the business and organisational environment force leaders into uncharted frontiers and redefine what it takes to succeed.The term ‘leadership paradigm’ refers to the way in which we think about leadership. If your leadership practice is based on old leadership paradigms, it will likely result in a mismatch with the demands and current needs of your organisation. If this happens, there is a need to recognise this as a problem and to adopt a new paradigm.Management and leadership researchers, particularly in Malaysia, have often found that leaders tend to have old leadership mind-sets and this results in ineffective leadership, which damages organisational performance. In particular, many of the leadership mind-sets in Malaysian businesses are outmoded and based on leadership and management theories and the bureaucratic frameworks of the 19th and early 20th century industrial period.They often do not take into account the younger workforce with very different world-views, experiences and attitudes and this can lead to a breakdown in the employment relationship.It is essential for us to look for a change in leadership paradigms which should also aim to change leadership and management approaches in practice. Leadership practices based on old paradigms and old managerial psychology models will result in organisational underperformance. We should embrace new paradigms that change the roles of managers and help to reduce organisational complexity in their organisations.For organisations to progress at different levels, leadership and management in Malaysia must match these new realities. Emerging leaders in the new era of leadership must recognise and accept the new realities or regress. They need to find ways to navigate and overcome the winds of change buffeting the organisations.The new millennium leadership paradigm emphasises that organisational thinking must include flexibility, speed and innovation. Leaders in the modern world need to be agile and adaptable to different situations. New era leadership needs new skills and capabilities which can be learned and acquired through proper training and we must spend time, money and effort in developing these new techniques and styles.New challenges require new emerging knowledge and perspectives not found in the outworn organisational approaches that we still see in many Malaysian enterprises.Those in positions of leadership and management should adopt a posture of openness and a new, inclusive mind-set. Successful leaders must also cultivate adaptive thinking which is responsive to organisational leadership challenges in the current business climate.In particular, the new knowledge-based age requires a new leadership paradigm. Traditional leadership is not able to compete in a flat world. Leadership models that were designed in the past century may not work effectively or capture the current dynamic leadership and organizational environment of today.Organisations are evolving in terms of culture, systems and structures and there is a need for leaders to understand what leadership means in the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution. Leaders are encouraged to focus on the future not the past.Future leaders also need to nurture the ability to develop strategic insights, engage others in shaping the future and create enthusiasm in executing their plans.Strategic leadership researchers have suggested that leaders who think strategically are able to connect the gaps between the old and the new paradigm. They are able to contribute and achieve results in an ambiguous, unpredictable and complex environment.Effective leaders feel an urge to shift the frame of reference in terms of organisational leadership thinking that extends beyond mechanical ways of understanding organisations.Regardless of the organizational context one may be operating in, new leadership models and pathways are always emerging to fulfil the requirements of the current times.When challenged by these new ideas, leaders need to re-think the appropriateness and relevance of the leadership and management styles that they currently use compared with new approaches for the future.To progress and move forward, change is inevitable. What will be our response? It will do us well to re-evaluate the way in which we plan, conceptualize, lead and manage and it is necessary to keep a spirit of openness, adaptability and change in order to thrive and to make sure leadership practices are in tandem with the times. – March 9, 2021.*Dr Jerry TW Chow and Professor Dr Geoffrey Williams are academics at the Malaysia University of Science and Technology. * This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.
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